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Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility

 

Faculty members are engaged in fostering critical thinking, and developing and disseminating new knowledge. Having academic freedom in teaching, research, and expression enables a faculty member to critique accepted truths and search for new knowledge, even when it disrupts the status quo. Academic freedom safeguards of tenure, due process, and faculty governance allow faculty members to serve the common good without being controlled by public opinion.

The Committee of Counsel on Academic Freedom and Responsibility (CCAFR) advises the president and provost on procedures for due process for faculty members, including procedures in tenure, promotion, and post-tenure review evaluations, as well as on safeguards for academic freedom, including those in teaching, research, and expression. CCAFR also investigates claims by faculty members who allege violations of due process, especially in their tenure, promotion, or post-tenure review cases. Please refer to Appendix A. CCAFR also investigates allegations of violations of academic freedom by faculty members. Claims of academic freedom violations are not limited to tenure, promotion, or post-tenure review cases. Please refer to Appendix B.

In 2011-12, the work of CCAFR can be divided into four separate subjects, and each subject is described in a separate section in this document:

  1. revision of University guidelines for tenure and promotion,
  2. revision of University guidelines for post-tenure review,
  3. three investigations of claims of procedural irregularities in tenure and promotion cases, and
  4. an investigation of a claim of an academic freedom violation in removal of an instructor from a course.

1. Revision of University Guidelines for Tenure and Promotion

The University administration, due in part to ongoing discussions with CCAFR since at least 2008-09, has been strengthening internal regulations for providing internal review of claims that violations of academic freedom tainted promotion and tenure decisions. In particular, the wording in the fall 2010, fall 2011, and fall 2012 versions of the University’s General Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure has each successively strengthened this internal review process. The fall 2012 version, which is described next, is available online at http://www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/evaluation/tenure/.

The fall 2012 version of the General Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure is a significant reorganization and update. This version brings information concerning tenure and promotion processes from many different documents into one place. The updated guidelines clarify a number of longstanding issues in these processes raised by CCAFR, including the following:

  1. What academic years count toward the tenure probationary period? (Section A.3b)
  2. Evaluation of an assistant professor who had the probationary period extended. (Section A.3b)
  3. Review of associate professors without tenure. (Section A.3b)
  4. Review of associate professors with tenure for early promotion. (Section A.4)
  5. Review of associate professors with tenure who have been in rank for 10+ years. (Section A.4)
  6. Review of promotion materials by candidate before department considers case, with an opportunity for candidate to seek redress of incomplete or inaccurate materials. (Section B.1b)
  7. Review of promotion materials by candidate at any time. (Section B.3)
  8. Creation of a new “Additional Statements” section to allow the promotion candidate to provide statements related to the promotion process being applied in their case. (Section C.9)

Issue (e) played a significant role in two appeal cases handled by CCAFR in spring 2012, as described in Section 3 below. The impact of the changes to the fall 2012 version of the General Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure on filing requests with CCAFR concerning allegations of procedural and/or academic freedom violations is discussed in Appendix A.

2. Revision of University Guidelines for Post-Tenure Review

In 2011, the University of Texas System Board of Regents discussed changes in the evaluation of tenured faculty members with component institutions. The UT Austin Faculty Council Executive Committee included CCAFR in these discussions. In February 2012, the Board of Regents formally adopted changes to Regents Rule 31102 Evaluation of Tenured Faculty: http://www.utsystem.edu/bor/rules/30000Series/31102.pdf.

The changes to Regents Rule 31102 include the following:

  1. Section 5.1. Each tenured faculty member will be evaluated in writing each year in terms of research, teaching and service, and be given an overall grade of one of the following grades:
    • Exceeds expectations
    • Meets expectations
    • Does not meet expectations
    • Unsatisfactory
  2. Section 5.1g.1. The use of the overall grade in determining salary increases.
  3. Section 5.1g.4. Two consecutive annual reviews of “Unsatisfactory” may trigger a comprehensive post-tenure review and/or employment termination proceedings.
  4. Section 5.2. Each tenured faculty member will undergo a comprehensive post-tenure review at least once every six years in writing, and the overall performance will be rated using one of the above four grades.

The new version of Regents Rule 31102 reinforces the requirement that each department provide annual reviews of each tenured faculty member in writing. (Annual reviews are also required of tenure-track faculty.) Annual feedback is particularly helpful for associate professors as they build their cases for promotion. The new version, however, erodes tenure protections.

The new February 2012 version of Regents Rule 31102 left the details of the implementation to each component institution. Throughout March, April, and May, President Powers and Provost Leslie engaged the Faculty Council, the Faculty Council Executive Committee, CCAFR, and others to discuss and draft the implementation guidelines for the University. Here are the minutes of the discussion at the April 23, 2012, meeting of the Faculty Council on this issue: http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2011-2012/minutes/min042312/VIII.A.html.

Faculty Council recommendations for implementing Regents Rule 31102 can be found at http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2011-2012/legislation/RR31102_guidelines.html.

These are recommendations. The provost’s office will issue the official guidelines.

3. Subcommittee Reports on Claims of Procedural Violations in Tenure/Promotion Cases

In January 2012, three faculty members claimed procedural violations concerning tenure and promotion cases. One of them also alleged a violation of academic freedom.

Assistant Professor A had been informed of denial of tenure and promotion in December 2011. In January 2012, Professor A’s department chair filed an appeal with CCAFR on behalf of Professor A to allege that the negative decision on the early tenure and promotion case was flawed by procedural errors. The first alleged error was that neither the candidate nor the department chair nor the dean knew, or was notified, that a candidate who goes up early for tenure and promotion risks losing probationary time (three years in this case) if promotion is denied. The second alleged error was use of the dean’s recommendation of “Hold Without Prejudice” as outcome of the case after the dean consulted with the Presidential Committee on Tenure and Promotion. The CCAFR subcommittee recommended that the candidate be given his/her full probationary term of six years and that the University define the possible outcomes in promotion cases. President Powers concurred with all of the subcommittee recommendations. The assistant professor has received the full probationary term of six years, and the fall 2012 tenure and promotion documents now clearly define the possible outcomes in promotion cases: www.utexas.edu/provost/policies/evaluation/tenure/rank%20recommendations%20chart.pdf

Tenured Associate Professors Y and Z had been informed of denial of promotion to professor in December 2011. Both had been in rank for 10+ years. In evaluating associate professors in rank for 10+ years for promotion, the president’s tenure and promotion memo says that the promotion “should be justified in terms of new scholarly productivity or a sustained record of teaching excellence.” Professor Y’s appeal points out that not only does the president’s memo not give guidance on how to apply the standard, the college tenure and promotion committee did not know how to do so, either. The CCAFR subcommittee recommended that the wording in the memo be improved. Effective fall 2012, the wording has been removed.

Professor Z alleged three procedural errors and one academic freedom violation. The allegation of an academic freedom violation was that Professor Z is required to publish books in a top-tier university press for promotion, but Professor Z’s primary research topic is not published by any top-tier university presses. The CCAFR subcommittee agreed that all alleged violations had merit, but that they did not rise to the level of tainting the promotion case.

The CCAFR subcommittee for Professor Z’s case made several recommendations:

(a)   University should notify candidates of the promotion case outcomes in a timely manner;

(b)  faculty should receive annual performance reviews in writing;

(c)   candidate should have access to promotion materials in a timely manner before they are considered by the department; and

(d)   each college should provide guidelines in evaluating scholarship of published books.

President Powers concurred with all recommendations. Recommendations (a) and (c) have been adopted in the fall 2012 version of General Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure. Regents Rule 31102 Evaluation of Tenured Faculty changed in February 2012 to give clear guidance on how each tenured faculty member will be evaluated each year in writing, starting in 2012-13. Section 2 (above) discusses this in more detail. Recommendation (d) will take some time for colleges to address.

In evaluating the appeals filed by Associate Professors Y and Z, CCAFR noted that the tenure and promotion processes at the department level are well defined, but become less defined at the college and upper-administration levels. Here are a couple of recommendations from CCAFR:

  1. “when a college-level committee or dean decides to modify or disapprove a decision by the department, the dean should notify the department chair and candidate in a timely fashion”; and
  2. “because of the variations among the colleges/schools, each college/school should put into written form its general procedures.” 

4. Subcommittee Report on Claim of an Academic Freedom Violation

In fall 2011, Professor X filed an appeal with CCAFR concerning his/her removal from a lecture-based course about a month into the fall 2010 semester. The removal came in the form of a letter on September 21, 2010, signed by the chair, graduate advisor, and a third faculty member in the same department. The concerns of several students and the three faculty colleagues appear to be over content and style of Professor X’s teaching of the course. There were no accusations of gross incompetence or misconduct. The September 21, 2010, letter references only “complaints serious enough to warrant a change in the direction of the course.” There was no evidence of due process beyond the department prior to the issuance of the removal letter on September 21, 2010. On November 6, 2011, CCAFR concluded that removal of Professor X from the course,

  1. involved a significant violation of Professor X’s academic freedom in teaching according to standards set by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and
  2. did not follow procedures clearly outlined in the UT Austin Handbook of Operating Procedures (HOP) 3.18 (c.f. Section I.C.3.b).

    Professor X’s CCAFR appeal was considered only in the context of his/her faculty grievance heard in December 2011. In the final ruling on February 10, 2012, President Powers asserted that Professor X’s removal was a matter of academic management and not a matter of disciplining a faculty member, and hence, HOP 3.18 did not apply. AAUP issued a letter on April 23, 2012, saying that the “AAUP has long considered the suspension of a faculty member from his or her primary responsibilities as a severe sanction, regardless of its purported basis.”

As part of Professor X’s CCAFR appeal, CCAFR recommendations included:

  1. adding safeguards to ensure that a faculty member receives due process in the provost’s office when there is an attempt to remove him/her from a course against his/her will, and
  2. improving the training of current and future department chairs on issues of academic freedom and its relevance to personnel decisions.

 

Brian Evans, chair